Mental health requires a proactive approach. It’s not going to surprise anyone or be controversial for me to state that we live in a beautiful but challenging world. Hard things come our way in life, and sometimes it seems they come relentlessly. The longer we live, the more hard things we endure, and the more layers of stress and strain can build up. Grief is cumulative, not isolated to moments and events. It can be argued that the arc of life tends toward mental strain instead of being a natural journey to peace of mind. One must pursue peace of mind more relentlessly than the world brings anxiety.
In my last piece I discussed collective trauma and made a case that we, as a global society, are suffering from it. I also made a case that if we can suffer together we can also heal together. If mental health requires a proactive approach, what are some proactive strategies? I’d like to dig a bit deeper into some strategies that will be helpful. These strategies must be applied both individually and collectively as communities. We must encourage each other in these efforts. Here are three strategies for healing:
Turn off sources of anxiety
Social media is ever-changing and likely never going away. The internet is a powerful tool for success in many cases. However, as with any power tool, what can be plugged in, can also be unplugged. I enjoy Twitter. I feel like I get real-time information and connection to people I respect in a fascinating format. But sometimes I intentionally turn it off. Maybe for you that’s Facebook or Fox News or CNN. Watching a panel of “experts” discuss current events can be enlightening. It can also introduce chaos and anxiety that isn’t helping your blood pressure. Remember, you have the power (cord). Do you really need to visit that community chat where everyone gripes? How much better would you feel if you sat outside in the sunshine for a few minutes, or took a walk? What are the sources of anxiety in your life that you could turn off, or take a break from? Never give a person, an app, or media outlet permission to steal your joy.
Show yourself and others grace
Maybe “grace” isn’t a part of your everyday vocabulary. I would argue that grace is an important aspect of mental wellness. Grace can simply mean the gift of goodwill, purely due to the kindness of the giver. If someone has to earn your goodwill, that’s not grace. Grace is freely given, not earned. Perhaps the first person you might bestow grace upon is you. Go easy on yourself. It’s been a tough year. Give yourself some space to breathe, permission not to be perfect. Maybe there’s someone else in your life who doesn’t deserve grace, but needs it nonetheless. How much real estate in your mind and heart does that grudge occupy? You’ll find that granting kindness (and even forgiveness) will be a gift to those who receive it, and even more of a gift to yourself.
Develop a rest strategy
Sleep is not like money. You can’t always pay back the sleep debt. Neither can you bank hours of sleep and save up. In fact, sleep should not be equated with rest. Sleep can be a vital part of a “rest strategy,” but it is not a rest strategy in itself. Do you have a strategy for rest? I recommend it. A rest strategy should include a regular sleep cycle if possible, but it’s more than that. Consider how much quiet time you have in your life. Maybe that’s time to read peacefully with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Maybe it’s time chatting with someone you love. Ask yourself what activities your life includes that feel like rest. The answer will be as unique as you are, but pay attention to it. Rest and mental health go hand in hand.
So, to begin the journey towards healing these are some steps we can take. Write out your rest strategy. Share it with someone you care about. Show yourself and others some grace. And utilize the power to turn off sources of anxiety. Do these things, and encourage others to do them as well. Hope is a choice. Choose to fight for hope and recovery, both for yourself and for your neighbor!
Dr. David Walker is a local school counselor and graduate student in the master’s in social work program at Idaho State University. He lives in Pocatello with his wife and three children.